The obvious first step was to get ragey about the binary marketing of children’s toys, and the message it sends to our kids. Things have, without a doubt, got worse on the pink/blue front in recent times. This is especially true for seemingly gender-neutral toys and objects: bikes, scissors, Lego, crayons, beach equipment and the like. There was no way my Depression-era grandparents would have spent money on something only marketed for children of one gender, as toys were expected to last for a number of kids, irrespective of whether they were boys or girls. What we have today seems to be a bit of a catch-22: because toys are comparatively cheaper, they are aggressively marketed in ways to make us buy more. Unless a specific piece of one’s anatomy is integral to the operation of said object, surely it is gender-neutral by definition? Even children’s toothbrushes are marketed along gender lines. Toothbrushes! Did I miss the science class where we learnt that little boys and little girls have dramatically different teeth that require different brushes, or does that just defy logic?
I then tried to teach my children that boys and girls can play with anything; we talked about how we are all individuals. I encouraged my daughter to play with trains, and asked: ‘Wouldn’t you rather wear this lovely green t-shirt?’ At this point I realized: what signal was I sending to my daughter if I was encouraging her not to wear pink, when my son could wear whatever he wanted? I had never tried to persuade my son that his blue monster truck hoodie isn’t appropriate; I’d never bought him a My Little Pony to prove a point. I’d dress my daughter in the “boys'” clothing collections as a point of principle, but I wasn’t dressing my son as a French autumnal princess. Not because I have a problem with it; he’d just never showed an interest, and it hadn’t occurred to me to encourage him to do so.
Why the resistance, then, to buying my daughter the “beautiful sparkly Princess ballet shoes” she so desired? If I was going to significant lengths to not buy pink for my daughter, did this mean that I was still guilty of buying into the pink/blue divide? I couldn’t tell my daughter that she could play with anything, as long as it wasn’t the pink princess rainbow sparkle toy. I can rage at the corporate giants and their ilk all I like, but the fact remains that as far as my daughter is concerned, it’s what she wants.
Where, then, does this leave me?
While I had all of the answers before I had children, I now have none. All I know is that I must walk the fine line between letting my children follow their interests and not letting the ridiculous commercialization of gender slide. I cannot forget that while my children believe that pink and blue are “girls” and “boys” colours, it is nurture, not nature that has caused this. I also cannot forget that the most important message for both of them is that I will support them in whoever they want to be, even if that means wanting to wear the dress that looks like a meringue on crack.
And where possible, not reach for gendered objects, especially when your children don’t care. Like toothbrushes. Because let’s face it: they are going to complain about having their teeth brushed regardless of the colour, right?
Lauren is a Wellington mother of two. She blogs atÂ Modern Mothercraft, where she applies a 1945 handbook on motherhood to parenting in the modern day, as well as writing about other topical issues.